Well, all chill has officially left the Internet. This is unimaginably gross: Emo-Emoji has an "I Can't Breathe Barney" emoji which parodies the choke hold that caused Eric Garner's death. The emoji is a rough sight to behold, and definitely triggering in its lighthearted use of the big purple dinosaur as a stand-in for Garner. Emo-Emoji, created by artist Le Messie, is known for their boundary pushing emoji "art", which basically vomits on the emoji we're used to in an attempt to be provocative and controversial. For instance, their stable of emojis repeatedly mocks Kim Jong Un, with images of him having a gun held to his head by James Franco (in light of The Interview, naturally), and riding a tandem bike with Dennis Rodman. So you get the picture: Emo-Emoji is not trying to be kind to anyone.
But here is where my opinion deviates a little from the obvious and correct view that this particular emoji is the worst thing ever. I wouldn't suggest for a second that this emoji isn't offensive—it undoubtedly is. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't accept (even in a disgusted way) its right to exist. After all, what is the Internet if not a giant graffiti wall? My first reaction when considering this emoji, and the inevitable response to it, was to think of censorship. Just because I (and probably you) find something to be incredibly distasteful, does that mean it doesn't deserve it's rightful place in the realm of political "art"? Is that even okay for me to say? Probably not. But more than I'm offended by the casual use of the dinosaur as a motif for an innocent man's wrongful death, I feel compelled to defend the right for it to exist.
Le Messie had the following to say about the offensive emoji:
“With the ‘Barney Breathe’ sticker I wanted to portray a big character that would relay Eric Garner’s characteristics of being a gentle giant. The color of Barney plays a large factor in this sticker piece as well. ‘Just because I’m a big purple T-Rex dinosaur, it doesn’t mean I’ll eat you… Give me a chance to breathe, then lets talk calmly in a controlled environment.’ “Just like Banksy’s works on concrete can relay a word or an array of words and meanings, my digital stickers do the same,” he continued. “In today’s culture, like the meme, the stickers sometimes have double and triple meanings, it depends in which context they are used.”
Here's the emoji itself:
What strikes me is the obviousness of the name: "I Can't Breathe Barney." It's very clearly what it is. It's not subtle. So if we're going to go for the jugular of emojis, why don't we talk about the ones that don't exist as art. The standard ones on your phone. The ones that don't even include a black person, as though blackness doesn't even exist. Isn't there something more insipid in the exclusionary tactics of regular emojis, than in the potentially misguided but still well-meaning work of an artists trying to say something, or even just a blatant grab for attention? I'm not defending "I Can't Breathe Barney", I'm just hoping we can use this as an opportunity to think about images and symbols and the way they convey meaning in our every day lives, and consider that maybe the unnoticed can cause more damage than that which we throw our arms up over.